WE ARE THE CRISIS

Rich, brilliant, and often sad, because this contemporary fantasy pulls no punches; blood will regretfully be spilled.

In the second installment of The Convergence Saga (No Gods, No Monsters, 2021), the monsters—werewolves, witches, vampires, and other magical beings—have finally emerged from secrecy.

The Cult of the Zsouvox is fomenting a war between humans and monsters for obscure, apocalyptic reasons. On the human side, the Black Hand escalates violence against monsters. Werewolves Laina Calvary, her husband, Ridley Gibson, and Laina’s girlfriend, Rebecca Vázquez, don’t know where to find support in this rising tide of hatred, since few other monsters are willing to reveal themselves and be exposed to attack. Dragon, a tween who can shift into his namesake, has escaped the Cult of the Zsouvox’s basement cell but is being watched both by the Black Hand and a former CIA agent, Alexandra Trapp, who is only partially aware of who’s pulling her strings. And weredog former senator Sondra is hoping her husband, a current senator, can push through a bill establishing legal protection for monsters; she’s keeping a lower profile in hope of concealing her monster identity as well as her presence at a bloody pro-monster rally in Boston three years ago. Will more established pro-monster forces emerge from the shadows before large-scale tragedy strikes? Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, Calvin continues to escape his troubled personal life in sleep, where he secretly observes the events occurring in the “monsterverse” and other universes, a practice which may prove more dangerous than he knows. Turnbull packs a lot of plot and character development in a fairly compact set of pages, using his story to explore complex issues of prejudice, intersectionality, and personal identity, as well as the scars left by the darker parts of one’s past. As in the first book, he also devotes considerable time to not-so-subtly endorsing the model of worker-owned, non-hierarchical cooperative networks. Rather than a jarring insertion into the plot, this helps highlight a key intersectionality issue: Even idealists may not be open to all ideas and varieties of people, particularly when they are afraid.

Rich, brilliant, and often sad, because this contemporary fantasy pulls no punches; blood will regretfully be spilled.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9781982603755

Page Count: 342

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2023

FOURTH WING

From the Empyrean series , Vol. 1

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

On the orders of her mother, a woman goes to dragon-riding school.

Even though her mother is a general in Navarre’s army, 20-year-old Violet Sorrengail was raised by her father to follow his path as a scribe. After his death, though, Violet's mother shocks her by forcing her to enter the elite and deadly dragon rider academy at Basgiath War College. Most students die at the War College: during training sessions, at the hands of their classmates, or by the very dragons they hope to one day be paired with. From Day One, Violet is targeted by her classmates, some because they hate her mother, others because they think she’s too physically frail to succeed. She must survive a daily gauntlet of physical challenges and the deadly attacks of classmates, which she does with the help of secret knowledge handed down by her two older siblings, who'd been students there before her. Violet is at the mercy of the plot rather than being in charge of it, hurtling through one obstacle after another. As a result, the story is action-packed and fast-paced, but Violet is a strange mix of pure competence and total passivity, always managing to come out on the winning side. The book is categorized as romantasy, with Violet pulled between the comforting love she feels from her childhood best friend, Dain Aetos, and the incendiary attraction she feels for family enemy Xaden Riorson. However, the way Dain constantly undermines Violet's abilities and his lack of character development make this an unconvincing storyline. The plots and subplots aren’t well-integrated, with the first half purely focused on Violet’s training, followed by a brief detour for romance, and then a final focus on outside threats.

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374042

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2024

IRON FLAME

From the Empyrean series , Vol. 2

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

A young Navarrian woman faces even greater challenges in her second year at dragon-riding school.

Violet Sorrengail did all the normal things one would do as a first-year student at Basgiath War College: made new friends, fell in love, and survived multiple assassination attempts. She was also the first rider to ever bond with two dragons: Tairn, a powerful black dragon with a distinguished battle history, and Andarna, a baby dragon too young to carry a rider. At the end of Fourth Wing (2023), Violet and her lover, Xaden Riorson, discovered that Navarre is under attack from wyvern, evil two-legged dragons, and venin, soulless monsters that harvest energy from the ground. Navarrians had always been told that these were monsters of legend and myth, not real creatures dangerously close to breaking through Navarre’s wards and attacking civilian populations. In this overly long sequel, Violet, Xaden, and their dragons are determined to find a way to protect Navarre, despite the fact that the army and government hid the truth about these creatures. Due to the machinations of several traitorous instructors at Basgiath, Xaden and Violet are separated for most of the book—he’s stationed at a distant outpost, leaving her to handle the treacherous, cutthroat world of the war college on her own. Violet is repeatedly threatened by her new vice commandant, a brutal man who wants to silence her. Although Violet and her dragons continue to model extreme bravery, the novel feels repetitive and more than a little sloppy, leaving obvious questions about the world unanswered. The book is full of action and just as full of plot holes, including scenes that are illogical or disconnected from the main narrative. Secondary characters are ignored until a scene requires them to assist Violet or to be killed in the endless violence that plagues their school.

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374172

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2024

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